China's Accession to and Implementation of International Environmental Accords 1978-95

China’s performance in numerous environmental areas—emission of greenhouse gases, use of ozone-depleting substances, reduction of sulphur dioxide emissions, or exploitation of fishing grounds in the western Pacific—will help determine the success of various global and regional environmental protection efforts. And as the World Bank’s recent study Clear Water, Blue Skies: China’s Environment in the New Century documents, the quality of life within China will be greatly affected by efforts to protect air, water, and soil, all of which are under heavy assault.

Ever since 1973, when Premier Zhou Enlai attended the United Nations–sponsored Stockholm Conference, the Chinese government has paid steadily increasing attention to environmental issues. It has joined many international accords, passed numerous environmental protection laws, and established a national environmental protection bureaucracy. On the surface, at least, there has been considerable movement. But how about beneath the surface?

With regard to its international commitments and agreements, what is the record to date? Why does China join international environmental accords? What happens domestically once it enters into an agreement? And what lessons can both China and the international community derive from the record to date? What factors encourage and inhibit effective implementation and compliance? What measures can be undertaken to improve the record?

This paper addresses these questions through an examination of China’s accession to and compliance with five environmental protection treaties: the Convention in Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in January 1981; the London Convention against Ocean Dumping in October 1985; the World Heritage Convention in December 1985; the International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA) in July 1986; and the Montreal Protocol in June 1992.

The paper is part of a multi-nation study under the direction of Professor Edith Brown Weiss of George Washington University Law School and Professor Harold Jacobson of the University of Michigan Political Science Department comparing compliance with these same treaties in the United States, Russia, Brazil, India, Japan, the Cameroons, and portions of Europe. The MIT Press is publishing the results of these studies under the title Engaging Countries: Strengthening Compliance with International Environmental Accords.